Review: At All Cost, Nothing Comes Easy (Trip Machine Laboratories, 2023)

This LP collects both demos from lesser-known Rockland County, NY hardcore outfit At All Cost (1987 - 1990), who would have members later resurface in acts as diverse as Dahlia Seed and Atlas Shrugged, amongst others. Working chronologically, side A presents the 1988 demo (sourced from a master cassette) with eight songs in 16 minutes of the fairly traditional NYHC style of that era (it kinda reminds me of Social Decay, from New Jersey, too). Generally rooted in an old school type of approach, there's a touch of added punch and some crude guitar leads, but nothing that delves into metal. Perhaps I come to that conclusion in part because the guitar tone's a little on the thin side, though, with less crunch than one might anticipate? No matter, this is just good, solid, no-frills hardcore. Sure, it's not necessarily gonna blow minds as they weren't reinventing the wheel, but it's strong material that's not boring and certainly has something to offer.

Side B is the 1990 demo (sourced from the original ¼" reels), containing six slightly longer songs in about 18 minutes. The recording is still a tad rawer than some of what was happening at the time, but tighter and with a hint more crunch and groove—not to mention the excellent melodic intro to "Enough Said." You can definitely sense the ways in which the band's music was progressing and developing a harder edge, which I prefer, but I still wouldn't classify anything as crossing into "metallic" territory. Just expect aggressive energy and top-notch breakdown callouts, etc. Good stuff. With another year or so to evolve and at the right place/right time, maybe At All Cost could've been another Breakdown or Outburst... who knows?

The LP also includes a bonus live cover of Attitude Adjustment's "Fuck Chuck," while the Bandcamp download tacks on an eight-song, nearly 30-minute live set from WNYU's Crucial Chaos radio show, recorded in late-1990.

The well-handled packaging consists of a black-and-white sleeve with a two-sided black-and-white insert, plus a Bandcamp download code. The insert includes a bunch of old photos and flyers, as well as lyrics and images of the original demo cassettes. As track titles like "Behind My Back" and "Strength Within" would imply, the lyrics took a no-nonsense approach to the genre's staple topics—perseverance, hardships and betrayal, lashing out against racism, etc. Straightforward, but better than average.

I've ranted about this before, but have to call attention to how much I respect Trip Machine Laboratories for putting this out. I simply cannot fathom why hardcore labels so rarely pursue these types of releases. Within about 10 minutes I could probably head over to my storage shelves and pull out at least 50 CDs that are reissues of hyper-obscure metal groups that maybe seven people outside of the bands' hometowns have ever even heard of. For decades now there have been metal labels solely dedicated to such pursuits, yet there are a number of historically significant hardcore acts whose material remains rare/out of print, not to mention tons of underrated gems like At All Cost relegated to YouTube at best. Hell, as a CD guy, I don't even care that this is only available on LP. When it comes to rescuing rare recordings from the dusty crypts of obscurity, any format is better than nothing! (Streaming, while nice, doesn't entirely count, 'cause that shit could be gone tomorrow.)

That being said, Nothing Comes Easy is limited to just 300 copies; still available on black (out of 50), red (out of 97 with hand-numbered and stamped dust sleeves), or purple/gray "trash" (out of 152). Oh, and take note that this shit's just about $21 shipped in the U.S. Most labels will charge like $25 pre-shipping for a fucking three-song 12" these days, so... again, respect to TML. So, if you're the type of person who enjoys obscure hardcore and would like to see more labels take a chance on properly archiving and preserving such rarities through releases like this, put your money where your mouth is and pick up a copy—please and thanks!

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